Elizabeth David’s sour view of sourdough

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Running to 600 pages, English Bread and Yeast Cookery was the magnum opus of Elizabeth David, widely regarded as Britain’s greatest food writer. Informative on almost all aspects of English bread, it even includes a chapter of recipes for toast. However, this comprehensive volume is pretty much dismissive of one loaf currently at the height of fashion. Elizabeth David did not appreciate sourdough bread, which only became popular three decades after her book’s publication. Even when she received samples of sourdough from its Californian birthplace,  the doyenne of food writing remained lukewarm. CH

There are several variations on the methods used to make sourdoughs, most American versions being made in three stages. A starter culture is made into a batter with flour and water or milk. When this ferments it is used to ferment a second sponge or leaven, and this in turn becomes the leaven for the dough proper. From making the starter to baking the bread takes about five days. I find the whole process rather unrewarding, but anyone who wants to try their hand at it will find recipes for both white and rye sourdoughs in James Beard’s book Beard on Bread.
James Beard tells me that San Francisco sourdough is something else again, that, in fact it is in a class by itself, and a purely commercial class at that. Samples of this sourdough were sent to me by a San Francisco friend, Mr Charles Williams of Williams-Sonoma, the famous kitchen shop. One of the loaves airmailed to me survived the three or four days in transit remarkably well. It was very much akin to some of the good pain de campagne made on the old leaven system and still to be found in French country bakeries. I certainly wouldn’t complain if we could buy bread as good in this country. The white version was not so good, and was rather like a very stale French baguette loaf.

From English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David (1977)

Picture credit:  avlxyz on Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA